This Script Can Stop A Micromanaging Boss
This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ
Working for a micromanager can be demoralizing. It’s hard to be confident and motivated when your boss is so obsessed with control that they hover over your every move. But typically, the boss’s micromanaging behavior has less to do with your actual performance and much more to do with their own anxiety.
Just to be clear, when I talk about micromanagers, I’m not talking about a high-standards style boss who pushes you to give blood, sweat and tears every day (e.g. Jeff Bezos or the late Steve Jobs). Those leaders are called Pragmatists (take a free leadership styles assessment to identify your fundamental leadership style). Working for the Pragmatist can be tough, and it isn’t for the thin-skinned, but the opportunities to learn under this boss’s tutelage are fantastic.
Unlike Pragmatists, who are driven, competitive, and goal-focused, micromanagers are generally ruled by anxiety (and it’s the anxiety that drives their need for control).
Let’s understand the roots of that anxiety, so we can proactively lessen it. First, imagine that you’re an individual contributor, without management responsibilities. You can resolve a lot of issues by yourself. If you’re a programmer, for example, you come into work every day and sit in front of your computer and say, “I have total dominion over this computer in front of me. I type my lines of code and if something goes wrong I fix it.”
But now imagine you’re a manager and something goes wrong. You can’t just hop in front of your computer and fix it. You oversee a whole bunch of programmers and your job is to convince them to go fix the problem. And if you’re the boss of other bosses, your job is to go convince the managers, who will then go convince the individual contributors to fix whatever’s broken.
The irony of being the boss is that the higher up you move in the hierarchy, the less direct control you have. This loss of control often comes as a shock to bosses and that, in turn, sparks their anxiety.
Unfortunately, you can’t walk into the boss’s office and say, “Listen, I know that you’re paralyzed by anxiety, but don’t worry. I’ve got it all under control.” What you can do, however, is to assuage their anxiety with the following script.
This script is eight questions that you should ask whenever your boss gives you a new assignment. They’re designed to reduce the boss’ anxiety first by uncovering all the information you’ll need to excel, and second, by communicating to the boss that you ‘get it’ and are in control. When you use this eight-question script, you’ll decrease the boss’ anxiety, and thus their micromanaging, because they’ll know that you can deliver exactly what they want.
Here’s the eight-question script to use when your boss gives you a new assignment…
- “Is there anything you’d like me to know about how this will get used?”(This reassures the boss that you understand the bigger picture of how the assignment fits into the overall strategy).
- “What’s your deadline?”(This one is pretty obvious but it’s always good to confirm it).
- “What’s the format that would be best for you?”(You can spare you and your boss unnecessary headache by making sure your work gets delivered in the proper way).
- “Who/what resources should I approach with this?”(Let the boss know you can handle boundaries and political sensitivities and that you are thinking as strategically as they are).
- “Are there other precedents/models/prototypes for this you’d like me to build on?”(Sometimes the boss has done a project like this before, and if you build on, or at least reference their prior work, their anxiety will decrease immediately).
- “How long do you envision this taking?”(Sometimes the boss will tell you the deadline is Friday but they’re thinking to themselves that they would have it done by Tuesday. This question helps you discover that gap and gives you the chance to meet , or exceed, the boss’ expectations).
- “Given your other assignments for me, where should this one fit?”(This tells you the relative priority of the assignment and tells the boss that you understand where this assignment fits).
- “What should I make sure that I absolutely do (and do not do) on this project?”(This gives the boss confidence that you’re not going to step on any major land mines or miss something critical).
Remember, micromanagement often stems from anxiety, which drives a need for control. Bosses can feel anxious that they don’t have as much control as they thought they would, and that can get displaced onto the rest of us.
But when you use this eight-question script, you’re assuaging their specific anxieties. You’re communicating to them that you understand their issues and concerns, and demonstrating that you’ve got the requisite competence to make both of you look great.
One final note: If you’re a boss with micromanaging tendencies, use this script to assuage your own anxiety. Teach your employees to use this eight-question script with you, and you’ll feel less anxious about their work. And that, in turn, will make you less likely to micromanage.